Sunday 31 May 2009

India ... Mum's story ... 1935 ...

India railways .. interestingly were being planned at much the same time as railways were being built in the UK. The Cornish tin and copper mining magnates were early adopters of the benefits of this new transport system in the early 1800s; as up until then shipping was the only realistic way of transporting heavy loads around the coasts and between countries.

In west Cornwall Hayle railway was opened in 1837, the local railways in Cornwall were built privately before the network system overcame the natural obstructions – rivers, steep hills, mountain ranges etc

The first railway in India opened in 1851 around the early (Bombay) Mumbai area .. supporting the need for construction materials required by the canal network: the canals and river systems in India originally played a huge role in moving goods around, as they had around the world since Roman times.

An elephant shunting a train on the Bengali - Nagpur Railway +/- 1880

Grish, who is a cleaner, in the Nursing Home comes from Ahmadabad one of the provinces of Gujurat, which borders Pakistan in the north and Mumbai in the south on the west coast of India; while the nurse on duty Jaitema comes from Kerala, I understand a beautiful state further south on the western shore of India. (Jaitema is wonderful - she's been at the Centre for six years .. so has been around all the time we've been there).

If someone comes into the room I like to explain to Mum what is happening, as she cannot find out for herself and she likes to know what is going on – and I’d never heard of Ahmadabad (I had heard of Gujurat), so was asking Grish about the area .. failing dismallywith his accent! .. hence the brief description here – I hate not knowing things!

Mum, aged 15, had travelled to India in 1935 and we were discussing this .. Grish was most interested, as I suspect not many people show an interest in foreign lands or their homelands and we always like to learn; I guess not too many people have travelled to or across India in the 1930s .. so I was asking Mum what she could remember.

She said she and her brothers (17 and 13) travelled out, almost certainly, in a P & O (Peninsular and Oriental Steam and Navigation Company) steamer from Southampton via the Suez Canal (opened 1869) to Mumbai.

By 1864, the East India Railways had arrived in Delhi although it was not until 1871 that the Bombay-Calcutta route was completed when the Great Indian Peninsular Railway reached Juppulpore. This route went to the north and was considerably longer.

The more southerly Mumbai to Kolkata (Calcutta) narrow gauge railway was finally tied up in 1900 with a bridge over one of the main tributaries in the Calcutta Delta – it is approximately 1,050 miles long (just out of interest! ... Los Angeles to New York = 3,000 miles; Perth – Sydney = 2,500 miles; Johannesburg to Cape Town = 870 miles; and of course! London – Penzance, Cornwall = 300 miles).
The P&O Sailing brochure 1937

My mother couldn’t remember the duration of the passenger ship journey or much about it, (but it seems it would have lasted 12 days) perhaps she’ll recall more another day; she did say they travelled out during the Christmas holidays and had had to take extra time off to visit my grandmother and her 2nd husband at his job with the East India Railway company in Calcutta.

My mother also couldn’t remember how long the train journey took (and I can't! find out) .. but said they had a compartment – without a corridor – which the three of them shared. My grandmother’s ‘bearer’ had come to meet them in Mumbai and escorted them on the train (presumably he was in a 3rd class carriage) across the continent to Calcutta and later on back again.

We discussed the definition of ‘bearer’: a general factotum (fac totum = in latin means a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities: do (fac) everything (totum)); which my mother said sounds like the definition she designates to me: 'an emanuensis' (a scribe) - a dogsbody (a person who does all the menial duties): so I suppose I fall into the category of ‘bearer’ for my mother!

I asked what they did for food .. and she said the train stopped often, as they couldn’t keep food .. it would go off too quickly. Being me .. I asked .. did you have a ‘loo’ (toilet (ghastly word!)) in the compartment and she thought they must have done .. and just said ‘it was family’ and we got on with it! For them in the 1930s it must have been a great adventure.

I asked if she could remember much about Calcutta .. but for the moment it’s lost in the mists of time – perhaps it’ll come back, now we’ve started to talk about it. She couldn’t remember where they stayed .. an apartment, a hotel or a house? – immediately my mother answers .. no a bungalow!!
The term ‘bungalow’ is first found in English from 1696, describing "bungales or hovells" in India for English sailors of the East India Company, (a trading company) which do not sound very grand lodgings; later it became used for the spacious homes, or official lodgings, of officials of the British Raj – and is now used around the world, typically to describe one storey properties.

My mother had also prompted me with the name ‘Taj Mahal’, when I couldn’t remember its name or for that matter the geography of India – as it’s miles off the route: so you tell me what’s wrong with her brain!

She came out with one of her wonderful descriptions .. so apt .. that brought me to tears .. she had never thought very much of her step-father .. and after a brief discussion on the matter .. out comes “well he was a poor specimen of a man” ... it’s probably a good thing he’s long left this mortal planet!!! I hope you can now see why I laugh so often, and why I’ve enjoyed these last 27 months .. I never know what’s coming. I called Jaitema in .. and told her .. and her eyes were on stalks and she was laughing too!!

Gwalior and Jhansi were in the Princely State of Gwalior. The Maharaja of Gwalior was from the Scindia family ruled Gwalior until India's independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. He developed an extensive narrow two foot gauge network of Railways in his state. The banqueting table in his palace had a silver model train which delivered liquers and cigars to his guests (see below).

I expect we’ll hear more now her mind is triggered .. but as you’ll have gathered I do like to put things into context as best I can ... tie up loose ends .. and I’ll bring a little more history into the story. I learn too! I just enjoyed finding out more about the railways and how lands became explored and opened up in our exploration age .. since the Industrial Revolution when so much changed.

The staff are always grateful when we include them in discussions (Grish stopped and said hello today!) .. as we all learn .. and they’ve had some wonderful conversations with my mother when she’s been wide awake and talkative at times when I haven’t been around. It makes the wheels go round ....

Thank you Mr Postman .. we're grateful that you keep coming now that the weather is so wonderful .. I know this story started with a lot about the railway, but this Industrial Revolution engine opened so much of the world up, moving us from water onto the land, and I know my mother will be interested in this transition and obviously the family used this form of transport in both England and India ... and she will be interested to hear how I have written it up.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


positively present said...

Great post. Such an interesting story about your mother! Thank you for sharing it.

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hilary, it is wonderful to learn more about India and the railways. It was a very different time then, when that was the only way to get places. All the things that could be seen and done after the trains came. That was a blessing to many people.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Daphne @ Joyful Days said...


Your mum has lived such a full life. I can't imagine how hard travelling in India must have been in those days. Your photos help wit the imagination a little.

It's also sweet of you to befriend the staff and get them talking about their homeland. Sometimes it gets lonely being alone overseas, and having people show an interest in you as a person makes all the difference. You and your mum are gems.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dani .. thanks for visiting ..and enjoying Mum's snippets of her visit to India.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna - yes - it is interesting at how much the railways have done for us in 150 years or so .. it wasn't long ago was it? Now they seem to be everywhere .. and allow us to transport goods or people all over the place.

Thanks for visiting ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Daphne .. thanks for your thoughts .. yes - Mum has had a very interesting life, with some hard knocks too;

I know - I always think about their families back home .. Jaitema's father had a stroke eighteen months ago .. and I always check with her - that's he's 'recovered' as best as possible, which appears to be the case (almost back to normal). I just like to appreciate their work and give them some respect - so important.

Many thanks for your comment sand visiting ..
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hilary, Your mother must have really enjoyed this one. Thank you for writing it. Have a good day.
Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. thanks very much .. I'm sure she will - and I hope it'll generate some more memories ..

Have a good day -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Peter Baca said...

Hi Hilary,

Your mom has visited some interesting places! Apparently, her travels have given her some great memories.

She might not recognize India is one of the countries of the world that is growing during these difficult economic times.

Thank you for the post!

Pete Baca
The Car Enthusiast Online

Giovanna Garcia said...

I found your India story very interesting. And something about elephant and Bengali got my attentions.
Thanks for sharing.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Pete .. thanks for those comments -I'm sure Mum wouldn't recognise India now .. especially as no doubt they were 'sheltered' somewhat by the Bearer in their travels.

India certainly is bounding ahead .. and has the advantage of speaking English, which must help their growth ..

Glad you enjoyed it ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Gio .. thanks .. beasts of burden - elephants included - as you realised!

Just glad you enjoyed the little that Mum could remember of her time in India .. it's only just over 70+ years ago ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Liara Covert said...

As you point out, there is so much to train history in India. I watched some documentaries on the Darjeeling-Himilayan railway and that is a trip that looks particularly fascinating. Thanks for shaing these detailed insights. Your mother's memory is incredible.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. yes the Darjeeling - Himalayan railway and journey interested me too - I've never been to India & must go one day.

Yes - Mum does have an amazing spread of remembrance for which I thank the powers that be makes it all so much more interesting .. it just takes a little prompting and guiding from me - particularly now-a-days.

Thank you -
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters